My idea for mass public transportation . . .Would this work?

We’re eventually going to run out of fossil fuels. That’s a given. How will people travel? It doesn’t appear that we’re looking much into the future.

Hubby and I debated this idea of mine, and I wanted to see what you guys think of it.

While in Europe, I was impressed by the rail system. Fast, effecient, and relatively inexpensive. We should have the same in the US.

We would start by connecting the major cities with rail lines. My idea is to either bury them underground, or to sink the track into the earth about five feet, and then build a concrete case to cover the top of the rail line, to help prevent sabotage. Slowly, we could work our way across the US, starting with the more populated regions, and then to the smaller areas. Within fifty years, the entire US would be connected by rail lines, with a station in each city.

This would be a major public works program, sponsored by the government. There would also be a one dollar tax on a gallon of gasoline to offset some of the cost. After the lines are built, corporations could take over running them, and maintaining them. The government would subsidize this, and ticket prices from lines already completed during the process would help fund the rest of the construction.

The trains would also carry cargo. Buisness people would get special rates, which might lure business away from the airlines. Trips might actually be faster, because there would be no long waits at airports or on the runway, and each stop in a city would be about the same as it is in Europe: about 10 minutes. Cameras would be installed in each car, as well as security people on each train that would monitor the video to ensure safety of the passengers.

As I see it, this would create thousands of jobs. The dollar tax on gas would rack up quite a bit of money to help build the rail line. People would be upset at the tax on gas, but it would force our nation to be more far-sighted, and also to conserve what fuel is left.

The trains would run off of electricity, or, if it’s ever possible, nuclear fuel pellets. The trains would be kept clean, and possibly walled with a smooth surface inside that would allow graffitti to be easily cleaned off.

So, what do you guys think? Could this work?

Yes, but to bury the tracks is much too expensive and ruins the view. Cheaper to monitor the tracts. Nuclear bad idea, build electical transit lines near the tracks, they lose power anyway via resistance. Or wait until superconductivity is developed, or just design it to evolve. Thanks. This is not a proposal that oil people like GW Bush would endorse.

You had me until you got the Government involved. Federal landgrants/grabs are fine and dandy, but let private enterprise do the rest to limit the graft as much as possible. is the site for out humble local half dozen miles of underground highway in Boston. It’s only 9 billion dollars over the projected cost of 4 billion. And you want the government to do this nationally??

Nothing wrong with nuclear power – we won’t have a choice in another 100 years anyway. Fellow Naderite I presume?

Amtrack is going bankrupt as we speak. Building something people already are ignoring, and trying to force it upon them is not going to work.
And a DOLLAR tax per gallon?

Did you see the fuel protests in Europe? Do you want to see them over here?
If you want to build a RR, then sell bonds. Let it make a profit. Let it sustain itself if it is such a good idea.

I had thought of this. I was thinking that maybe we could either bury the rail line under existing highways, or use the median of the highways.

Well, most of the train would be below ground level, so you would only be able to see what remained above ground. If we completely buried the thing, only stations would block a scenic view.

That’s were the buck tax on a gallon of gas would help. How many millions of gallons are used in one day? Trucking would be exempt from the tax, so that the cost of goods wouldn’t be inflated. There could also be other luxury taxes, such as a five hundred to a thousand dollar tax on buying a large gas-guzzling vehicle like an SUV.

The government would save money in the long run. Rail lines are durable, and require less money to maintain than asphalt roads. They would see the cost returned in ticket sales in the years to come.

I’m not saying this would be cheap or easy, but as fossil fuels become rarer, we’re going to run into a large problem with transportation. We’re going to have to do something like this sooner or later, or we’re going to be royally screwed.

Truer words have never been spoken. But the oil people are going to have a hard time of it when there isn’t any oil left to sell. I would suggest to them that they invest heavily in a national rail line, or possibly become the corporation that runs it so they can stay in business when the wells start to run dry.

I did vote for Nader, but only because I like to lend support to third parties.

I predict a surge in trucking companies under your regime.
My best guess would put the increase at say…


So now you will be defining what a real trucking company is…

I see a whole new place to add jobs:

The Department of Trucking Regulators

Plus, I’m sure we will need to change the ATF to the ATF&G. Gotta stop that black market gas from getting through.

That would probably be good for a several hundred million dollar budget every year.

I guess the cost to employees who are commutting won’t drive up the cost of labor, which will drive up the cost of the product. Will local and state gov’ts be exempt as well? If not, raise those taxes.

People have less disposable income, watch retail sales plummet. No sales, watch unemployment rise. Well, since we have such rock bottom unemployment now, I guess you are going to need to shake some people free from their jobs.

It is a really good idea. Fuel cell technology is coming along well put hydogen might prove dangerous. Planning ahead is a rare virtue! But, I think we’d get along without cars or trains OK after some mayhem.

Revisit this topic in 60-75 years when we will be truly running low on oil. Theres still oodles of it…it just may take a bit more getting to now that the some of the easy stuff is going away…thats all. I am not an expert by any means, but I have seen/heard a lot that are. As long as they are not tied to some enviromentalist group, they are not terribly concerned for the short term future.

However, I will say this in your support. I think a high speed rail network IS a really good idea. :slight_smile:

Sorry for a nitpick to an otherwise intriguing pro-rail posting, but as to “the trains would also carry cargo,” we already have a freight railway system, which is privately owned and even somewhat profitable. It may not seem so when you’re hemmed in by trucks on the Interstate, but more goods travel by train in the US than by any other mode. And not just bulk goods like coal, grain, and chemicals; shipping containers and “piggyback” truck trailers are a major portion of U.S. rail traffic. The freight rail system is “invisible” to a lot of Americans because of the relative sparsity of passenger trains, but just because the freight railway companies got out of the passenger business in 1971 because it was no longer profitable doesn’t mean that they got out of freight service or that it is unprofitable.

I agree that we need a passenger rail system financed with government money. Thousands of miles of roads and thousands of acres of airport tarmac were, and are, built by the government because the job is too big for private industry alone. To compete with this massive (and necessary; we need all three modes of transport for a balanced system) investment, rail must also receive federal and state funding for its capital expenses – tracks, signals, stations, and rolling stock, not just the land.

As to the argument from some that passenger rail should be a profit-making enterprise, city police and fire protection, water and sewer service, and public transit don’t make a profit, and nobody seriously expects them to. They are vital services. We don’t charge people for putting out fires because we don’t want Jack Cheapskate’s house burning down because he wouldn’t pay the fee – and the fire then spreading to our own house. We don’t charge 100% of a transit authority’s costs as fare because lower fares mean higher ridership, and the goal of the transit system is to lure more commuters off the roads and alleviate congestion.

We have invested several billions of tax dollars in the highways and airports, and yet they are hopelessly congested. If the expenditure of several million more on passenger rail service can break the gridlock, then its a proper public investment because it alleviates the pressure on the highways and airports. Profit, as such, is irrelevant to the calculation: where rail can carry more people for fewer tax dollars than a comparable road or airport project, it is the more EFFICIENT use of tax money whether or not it returns a profit.

That said, underground rail is a needless extravagance outside cities; elevating lines on earthen embankments with bridges over road crossings is more than sufficient in rural areas and much cheaper. Also, burying the line ruins one of rail’s advantages, which is that you can see the countryside you’re passing through instead of looking down from five miles in the air or keeping both eyes on the road ahead.

Oh, BTW, I voted for Dubya. :slight_smile:


I was thinking of Lissa’s suggestion of nuclear pellets on board the train itself.

As for the idea of using freeways, this is actually very feasible, without too much modification. When gas is too expensive we will need a sudden replacment and the freeways will be much less congested. So, take over a lane or two to install tracks for light-weight mass transit. Fuel cells are the best idea yet, as Jmullaney suggested. They are bulky and do not seem ideal for cars, but ideal for electric trains since they convert fuel directly to electrically (50% efficient, as opposed to 25% efficient for combustion) and trains don’t require stopping and starting quickly as much (an electrical drawback).

As far a private corporations doing a better job than local governments, this is a Rush Limbo-ism, the same guy who said that the the military is the only goverment agency that works, and who said that freedom comes from god (not for the last two-thousand years it hasn’t) and who said that the earth’s ecosystem is not fragile. I have never yet seen an honest corporation. Trains and electric utilities need extreme government oversight because they are monopolistic enterprizes. Governments are good for doing what corporations would naturally abuse or can’t afford. Demonizing democratic government is an extension of Christianity demonizing humanity.

Europeans already pay more than Americans for their gas.

I don’t want to see protests any more than you do, and I realize that people are going to resent that they can no longer waste fuel with impunity, but eventually, it’s gonna happen anyway. Might as well start preparing for it now.

I’ve always had the scary thought of what happens when the gas DOES run out? Will there be riots then? Wars with mid-east countries who are speculating? If we have means of transportation when the Dark Day does come, then the impact on America will not be as severe as it would be if we ran out of gas today, with little to no alternate means of transportation. You wanna see a riot? There’ll be riots a plenty when no one can get around. Is it right to force people to be far-sighted by charging tax on gasoline? I don’t know. Right or wrong, we should be doing SOMETHING.

Oh? Why is that?

I define a trucking company as one that primarily ships goods for commercial use. I’m not suggesting draconian measures to make sure that no one is slipping through the cracks and not paying the tax. I’m thinking along the lines of the ration stickers we had during WW2. People whose job requires car travel would also be exempt from the additional tax. Yes, bootleg gas might be a problem, and it might NOT be a problem. I’d rather pay the extra buck per gallon that buy gas from God-Knows-Who who got it from God-Knows-Where and is selling it off the back of a truck out behind a grocery store.

Interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. For me, personally, the gas tax might cost be around 50 bucks a month, which really wouldn’t break my bank. I know it would for some people . . .

Here’s an idea: You would report how much gas you use per month commuting. You would have to show a pay-stub to prove where you work. The gas that you use for commuting would be tax exempt, but any gas used for a trip to Grandma’s house, or to the grocery store would not.

True, but I was thinking that corporations would have the capital we need. The government would still oversee the operation, but, for example, XYZ Corporation would run a certain percentage of the lines, and ABC, DEF, and GHI corporations would own the others. The fares would be the same nationwide, so that the corporations couldn’t gouge the public. The corporations would get tax relief and be subsidized for maintaining and running the line smoothly.

I like the idea of selling bonds to raise the money, but I can’t imagine that it would raise enough. Stock in the rail company might also be a good idea, but since I’m estimating that it will take at least fifty years to build the entire rail system, I doubt if people would be interested in something that might not turn profit for half a century.

You’re right! I greatly enjoyed seein the English and French countryside from my train window. Very good point! We’ll keep the train above ground, and save money.

I think, that if all possible, we should avoid crossing roads. A train going 200 mph cannot stop for a car crossing the tracks, and there are a lot of idiots out there who think “I can make it,” and end up causing a train wreck.

Thanks for all of your responses. You guys have raised some pretty good points.


Automobile companies are looking towards all sorts of solutions. Only company expects to manufacture automobiles that run off of fuel cells instead of gasoline within the next 5 years or so.


Uh, we already had quite a huge rail system in the 1800’s. For some reason we decided we didn’t like that and we switched to automobiles. Why would I want to take a rail to Chicago from Dallas when I could fly in less time? How much would it cost to build an underground rail system throughout the entire US? More then it is worth I think.


That seems rather ridiculous. Especially considering there is already a lot of research going into making automobiles for efficent.

You’re looking for a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. Rail just isn’t the way to go.


Well, I’m no resident of the UK but I’ve visited and the rail system didn’t knock my socks off. I stayed out of London, though.

Here in Boston we’ve got Amtrack’s “T” and it is a beaut. Buuuut, the rates are being hiked because the city, now that the whole mess is built, wants the trains to stand on their own two feet. Good luck is all I have to say.

I still am unsure why we don’t go nuclear for power. Seems like an absurd waste to build bombs out of it when we could get incredibly cheap electricity. Plus those steam stacks are cool looking.

But, why do something beneficial with private industry when we can simply tax the shit out of the rich and get them to build an outdated mode of personal transportation? [sub]ducks[/sub]

The reason is because we loved the idea of piloting our own craft, and owning a car became a status symbol.

As fuel becomes rarer and more costly, ticket prices for airlines will go up. Rail travel would be cheaper. If train travel were a vaild, cheaper workable option, I’m sure that more people would rather take the train. Companies that send their executives on trips would probably rather pay the lower price, especially if we start having fuel shortages.

Not in the long run. We ARE going to run out of gasoline someday. Everyone will have to buy a new car that runs off of alternate means. Ford and GM will love that, but will everyone who drives be able to afford a new car? If there’s little or no gas, who will buy, or give a trade-in value on your old, gas-using car? It will be worthless.

If there is a rail system in place when this happens, then people will still have transportation, even if they can’t afford a new car.

It will be profitable, eventually, especically if gas prices keep on rising (and I can’t see any way we’ll ever see $0.89 a gallon again). The problem is that because that line is not showing a profit yet, few companies, or even the government, for that matter, are far sighted enough to realize the shape we’ll be in when there isn’t an abundant supply of gasoline, and that we’ll need a mass-transit system.

Don’t forget that rail can be terribly inconvenient. A trip by inter-city passenger rail requires getting to the train station, and getting from the destination train station to your final destination. A minor pain if you are a single college student with a backpack and a lot of time. But add luggage, kids, etc., and you have MAJOR inconvenience.

My prediction? If gas starts getting scarce, people will switch to CARS powered by other means. The technology exists already. And many people will pay A LOT for the convenience of having a car.

Always enjoy a good rail thread…
European rail passenger systems are better developed than in the USA for four basic reasons:

  1. Artificially high fuel costs for personal transport

  2. Relatively high population density

  3. numerous city pairs from 100-500 miles apart (the distances at which high-speed rail best competes with air)

  4. Early nationalization of each country’s rail system, allowing centralized long-term development without any particular concern for profits

I believe there is some value to an upgraded passenger system (with train speeds in the 150-180MPH range) in the US. While people may be forced out of their cars only by a total lack of fuel, highways in many areas are approaching saturation, with little remaining land available for more lanes. Slots for additional domestic air flights are also becoming harder to come by. Upgrading existing rail lines and expanding passenger service, especially in the 100-500 mile range, may be the only practical solution to increase travel capacity.

On the freight side, the only practical justification for long-distance trucking currently is that goods can be moved cross-country faster than by truck than by rail. Upgrading the freight system to haul trailers at high speed would have a great benefit in reducing highway congestion and accidents.

The basis for an upgraded system of the type described in OP already exists, as current freight lines owned mostly by the five major systems (BNSF, CSX, KCS, NS and UP). The main problem with implementing such a plan, however, is that the current infrastructure is privately owned, and the freight companies want no part of passenger service, as it simply impedes their core business of running freight trains, with no financial benefit to them. IN addition, despite the freight companies making a modest profit in recent years, AFAIK none have made enough to cover the cost of capital in decades. What that means, basically, is that there is no private money for massive upgrades in rail infrastructure.

What about the government, then? Amtrak, while a corporation established by the government, operates primarily over tracks owned by the freight lines (the main exception is Washington-Boston), and is viewed mainly as an annoyance by the freight operators. In addition, while Amtrak has been building express business in an attempt to meet government-mandated revenue requirements, this is beginning to encroach on existing freight business and the railroads are rebelling. There is likewise little chance that any major goverment-funded rail project could be constructed where it might be seen as competition for the existing freight carriers.

Under these circumstances, the only realistic option seems to be the drastic step of government condemnation of the freight lines, followed by:

a) Open access; that is, opening the rails to any operator who wishes to use them, and can meet licencing requirements, as has been done in the UK

b) Establishment of a federal program, along the lines of the Interstate and Defence Highway Act, to systematically upgrade the existing rail system, with new track constructed only if and when necessary.

Chances are that the freight operating companies would be able to operate at profit; passenger service is more problematic, but the French have proven with their TGV system that they can at least generate positive cash flow (if not a true profit) with high-speed rail.
What say the Teeming Millyuns?


And I continue to enjoy piloting my own craft. I don’t have to stick to someone else’s schedule. Even in Europe there are plenty of automobiles even with the rail system you so admire.


You assume there isn’t going to be a viable alternative to fossile fuels.

Not in the long run. We ARE going to run out of gasoline someday. Everyone will have to buy a new car that runs off of alternate means.


Facts, figures, or anything to back up your beliefs? I’d rather personally purchase an automobile in the near future that runs off of fuel cells, or something else, rather then invest everything in a vast rail system. Again, a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.


Uh, they’re doing their best to mass produce these automobiles so that people can afford them. If people can’t afford them then Ford and GM goes out of business. There will undoubtably be a transition phase where you see more and more of these alternative fuel vehicles. It isn’t all going to happen overnight.


I’m not interested in a rail system that’s going to suck up tax dollars. Rail was great in the 1800’s I don’t see why it is a good idea now.



You just tipped your hand again. Things happen when they are economically feasible. Nuclear power is not feasible today, perhaps it will be again, but there are storage issues. Cars are feasible for the moment, but become less and less so after 2 dollars a gallon in today’s prices. (Such was the health care thread, it will soon become unfeasible to insure a majority of the population, at which point we will adopt health care for anyone to get elected). Since you brought it up, since when is track-based transportation outdated? What does outdated mean? I thought it meant anything conservative.

Well, I already own my company, (small contracting co.) so all it would take for me (or anyone else) to run a trucking company would be a quick trip down to the county court house to register my new trucking company.

I promise it will make a profit if you just give me a couple of years with that sticker.
See the problem?


So who would paying this tax again? Everyone I know drives to work.